Nordic Traditions

One of the missions of Sons of Norway is to help members celebrate Norwegian heritage and learning about traditions and customs is an important part. How are holidays and other special days like 17 May or St.Urho's Day celebrated? What about trolls and nisse? For a free interactive forum for Vonheim Lodge where you can submit and upload information, please go to Vonheim 108 forums to visit. You will need to create a user name and profile to post.

picture of Julenisse


Norwegian Holiday Tradition – The Julenisse

The Christmas season is a perfect time to embrace your Norwegian heritage and share the culture with your loved ones. One way to do this is by incorporating a new or different tradition into your celebrations each year.

This season, why not invite an icon of Norwegian folklore, the Julenisse, into your holiday home? Both farm protector and bearer of Christmas cheer, the nisse is a charming, yet sly fellow whose legacy lives on in Norway and around the world to this day.

The classic tale declares that small gnome-like nisser hide in houses and barns to bring good luck or make mischief, depending on how well they are treated by the ones who live there. Try having fun with this family-friendly legend and hunt for the nisse living in your own home. Simply search for photos of the nisse on the internet, print them out and hide them around your home, then send your guests on the nisse hunt of the year.

Check out the 2010 November issue of Viking for a nisse cut-out, along with other Nordic games and activities you can enjoy over the holidays. You can also learn more about the nisse and its Norwegian legend in the 2012 December issue of Viking

picture of norwegian troll

Norwegian Troll

Trolls and Nisse

The Nordic countries are well known for their trolls and nisse. In the 1840s the farm's nisse became the bearer of Christmas presents in Denmark, and was then called julenisse (Yule Nisse). In 1881, the Swedish magazine Ny Illustrerad Tidning published Viktor Rydberg's poem "Tomten", where the tomte is alone awake in the cold Christmas night, pondering the mysteries of life and death. This poem featured the first painting by Jenny Nyström of this traditional Swedish mythical character which she turned into the white-bearded, red-capped friendly figure associated with Christmas ever since. Shortly afterwards, and obviously influenced by the emerging Father Christmas traditions as well as the new Danish tradition, a variant of the tomte/nisse, called the jultomte in Sweden and julenisse in Norway, started bringing the Christmas presents in Sweden and Norway, instead of the traditional julbock (Yule Goat).

Gradually, commercialism has made him look more and more like the American Santa Claus, but the Swedish jultomte, the Norwegian julenisse, the Danish julemand and the Finnish joulupukki (in Finland he is still called the Yule Goat, although his animal features have disappeared) still has features and traditions that are rooted in the local culture. He doesn't live on the North Pole, but perhaps in a forest nearby, or in Denmark he lives on Greenland, and in Finland he lives in Lapland; he doesn’t come down the chimney at night, but through the front door, delivering the presents directly to the children, just like the Yule Goat did; he is not overweight; and even if he nowadays sometimes rides in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, instead of just walking around with his sack, his reindeer don’t fly - and in Sweden, Denmark and Norway some still put out a bowl of porridge for him on Christmas Eve. He is still often pictured on Christmas cards and house and garden decorations as the little man of Jenny Nyström's imagination, often with a horse or cat, or riding on a goat or in a sled pulled by a goat, and for many people the idea of the farm tomte still lives on, if only in the imagination and literature. The use of the word tomte in Swedish is now somewhat ambiguous, but often when one speaks of jultomten (definite article) or tomten (definite article) one is referring to the more modern version, while if one speaks of tomtar (plural) or tomtarna (plural, definite article) one could also likely be referring to the more traditional tomtar. The traditional word tomte lives on in an idiom, referring to the human caretaker of a property (hustomten), as well as referring to someone in one's building who mysteriously does someone a favour, such as hanging up ones laundry. A person might also wish for a little hustomte to tidy up for them. A tomte stars in one of author Jan Brett's children's stories, "Hedgie's Surprise".

Tomter/nisser often appear in Christmas calendar TV series and other modern fiction. In some versions the tomter are portrayed as very small; in others they are human-sized. The tomter usually exist hidden from humans and are often able to use magic.

picture of Norwegian Holmenkollen

Norwegian Holmenkollen

Holmenkollen History

In March thousands of spectators will gather in Oslo to support their favorite athletes for the 2015 Holmenkollen Ski Festival. Arranged yearly since the first ski jumping and cross-country skiing competition in 1892, the Holmenkollen Ski Festival includes events in ski jumping, Nordic combined and cross-country skiing. An FIS World Cup Nordic event, the festival draws large crowds and is attended annually by the Royal Family.

Regarded as being among the most famous sports arenas in the world and the center of Norwegian skiing, Holmenkollen has a long and impressive history. In the many years since its inception Holmenkollen and its facilities have existed in multiple separate incarnations, changing dramatically since its first branch and snow ski jump in 1892. Hosting World Championships in 1930, 1966, 1982 and the nordic skiing events of the 1952 Winter Olympic Games—an event that set the arena’s all-time attendance record of 120,000—brought with it advancements like permanent grandstands, a judge’s tower and a lift. The war years halted regular events at Holmenkollen until a celebratory liberation event in 1946. Competitors wrote the symbol H7 (King Haakon VII) in the outrun and the events once again commenced as they had prior to the war. Holmenkollen received its most dramatic re-development prior to hosting the 2011 World Championships, modernizing by becoming the only ski jump in the world with permanent wind protection and a steel construction. Today it stands alone as the world’s most modern ski jump facility.

Physical changes to the facilities aren’t the only transformations that Holmenkollen experienced over the many years since its beginnings in 1892. Slalom and downhill racing events were added to the program in 1947. Four years later, giant slalom was added and with it came the addition of female competitors. In the years that followed additional women’s events were added and in 2001 the first female ski-jumping event was held.

To learn more about Holmenkollen or to read up on the events happening at 2015 Holmenkollen Ski Festival, held March 13-15, visit:


picture of Lutefisk


Lutefisk: A Strange and Beloved Tradition

Whether you love it or you hate it, lutefisk is a closely held tradition among ScandinavianAmericans.

A wintertime rite of passage among many Sons of Norway lodges, lutefisk dinners remain a popular and important means of connecting with Nordic culture and heritage. But how did something as bizarre as fish treated with lye become such a cultural icon? Read on to learn more about this notorious Scandinavian food.

Unknown Origins

While no one is certain how or where lutefisk originated—whether in Sweden or Norway—there are a couple of legends regarding its creation. The first suggests that early Viking fishermen hung their cod, an invaluable source of protein for the winter months, to dry on tall birch racks. In a skirmish with neighboring Vikings, the racks of fish were burned but a rainstorm blew in and doused the fire. Left to soak in rainwater and birch ash for months, the reconstituted fish was later discovered by some hungry Vikings who ate it. The second less plausible tale of lutefisk’s origins describes a lye-poisoning attempt on Viking raiders by St. Patrick in Ireland. According to legend, St. Patrick served the raiders lye-soaked fish in the hopes of dispatching them, however the raiders enjoyed the fish and beheld it as a delicacy. Although an entertaining story, the lifetime of St. Patrick precedes known Viking activity in Ireland by more than three centuries.

What is known is that lutefisk gained its popularity in the U.S. after a sharp increase in Scandinavian immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Originally a food born out of poverty, descendants of immigrants now view it as a connection to their ancestors and their heritage. “These dinners represent important traditions in both families and communities, and for some, they are a valued connection to culture and heritage. While the food tradition certainly originated in Scandinavia, the immigrant communities— especially their churches and cultural heritage lodges—have played a major role in developing the phenomenon of lutefisk dinners,” says Carrie Roy, a Scandinavian cultural scholar and creator of the short documentary ‘Where the Sacred Meets the Quivering Profane: Exploring the Public and Private Spheres of Lutefisk.’

How it’s Made

Modern lutefisk begins its journey from sea to plate as a whitefish, typically cod. Dried and reconstituted in lye brine, the fish is later soaked to remove the causticity and packaged for purchase. Cooked until a seemingly impossible combination of gelatinous and flaky, lutefisk is typically served with butter or cream sauce.

Facts about Lutefisk

• The state of Wisconsin exempts lutefisk from classification as a toxic substance in its laws regulating workplace safety.
• Much of the lutefisk sold by Olsen Fish Company comes from Ålesund, Norway.
• Sterling silver should never be used in the preparation or eating of lutefisk as it will stain the silver.
• Left overnight, residual residue from lutefisk preparation is nearly impossible to remove.
• The self-proclaimed “lutefisk capital of the world” is in Madison, MN, home to fiberglass codfish, Lou T. Fisk.
• While more common in Scandinavian-American communities,lutefisk is experiencing a resurgence among restaurants and catering companies in Norway, up 72 percent from 2005 to 2007.
• The first written preparation of lutefisk in literature is in the writings of Olaus Magnus in 1555. In his writings, Olaus notes that it should be served with salted butter.

picture of blåbær

Blåbær Season in Norway

Berry Season in Norway

Sweet, mouthwatering, vibrant colored berries are so cherished in Norway they are included in nearly every Nordic recipe imaginable. Berry season is upon us and in Norway wild berries can be eaten right off the stem. Picking season starts in June and for some varieties it can last until October when the first frost hits. Norwegian law (Allemannsrett) says that everyone has access to picking berries on public land however some places restrict picking unripened berries.

Blåbær, bringebær, jordbær, and tyttebær oh my. These are just a handful of the most popular berries found in Norway Blåbær, bringebær, jordbær, and tyttebær oh my. These are just a handful of the most popular berries found in Norway be found close to the ground in the mountains, valleys and near the sea. The valuable cloudberry is treasured in Norway because it is so hard to get and can cost up to NOK350/1kg in the store (about $25/1lb), which is why strict rules apply to picking these berries over any other in Norway.

Norway’s cool summer weather allows the delectable fruit to mature slowly producing a rich, sweetness at prime ripeness in early fall. Norwegians hold their berries to a high standard because they are such a versatile food. Berries are used in a variety of recipes including fruktsuppe and bløtkake. Fresh juices and lingonberry sauces are squeezed from the small berries to cover riskrem, vafler, and meatballs. In order to not waste a single berry, freezing berries and canning jams are perfect for later use in winter meals.

August, September and October are prime times to pick berries in Norway. When going to berry picking (plukke bær), it is important to be aware of your natural surroundings. Do not pick on private or fenced off land, look out for moose, and don’t pick until the berries are ripe. Be sure to bring buckets, and wear waterproof hiking boots and a light jacket. Don’t forget to go with an empty stomach for plenty of taste testing opportunities.